Monday, January 3, 2005


Naomi Klein - Iraq, disengagement and reparations

Once again, Naomi Klein, one of the most lucid voices around, in You Break It, You Pay For It expresses some ideas that are what used to be called "good old common sense". Calling on people to avoid the "shucks, we may have goofed, but now we have no choice but to remain" mentality. She effectively debunks the idea as expressed by Nicholas Kristof in a recent New York Times column who writes: (even though) "Our mistaken invasion has left millions of Iraqis desperately vulnerable, it would be inhumane to abandon them now…. if we pull out we will be condemning Iraqis to anarchy, terrorism and starvation, costing the lives of hundreds of thousands of children over the next decade."

Klein writes: "Let's start with the idea that the United States is helping to provide security. On the contrary, the presence of US troops is provoking violence on a daily basis. The truth is that as long as the troops remain, the country's entire security apparatus--occupation forces as well as Iraqi soldiers and police officers--will be exclusively dedicated to fending off resistance attacks, leaving a security vacuum when it comes to protecting regular Iraqis. If the troops pulled out, Iraqis would still face insecurity, but they would be able to devote their local security resources to regaining control over their cities and neighborhoods.

As for preventing "anarchy," the US plan to bring elections to Iraq seems designed to spark a civil war--the civil war needed to justify an ongoing presence for US troops no matter who wins the elections. It was always clear that the Shiite majority, which has been calling for immediate elections for more than a year, was never going to accept any delay in the election timetable. And it was equally clear that by destroying Falluja in the name of preparing the city for elections, much of the Sunni leadership would be forced to call for an election boycott.

When Kristof asserts that US forces should stay in Iraq to save "hundreds of thousands of children" from starvation, it's hard to imagine what he has in mind. Hunger in Iraq is not merely the humanitarian fallout of a war--it is the direct result of the US decision to impose brutal "shock therapy" policies on a country that was already sickened and weakened by twelve years of sanctions. Paul Bremer's first act on the job was to lay off close to 500,000 Iraqis, and his primary accomplishment--for which he was just awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom--was to oversee a "reconstruction" process that systematically stole jobs from needy Iraqis and handed them to foreign firms, sending the unemployment rate soaring to 67 percent. And the worst of the shocks are yet to come. On November 21, the group of industrialized countries known as the Paris Club finally unveiled its plan for Iraq's unpayable debt. Rather than forgiving it outright, the Paris Club laid out a three-year plan to write off 80 percent, contingent on Iraq's future governments adhering to a strict International Monetary Fund austerity program. According to early drafts, that program includes "restructuring of state-owned enterprises" (read: privatization), a plan that Iraq's Ministry of Industry predicts will require laying off an additional 145,000 workers. In the name of "free-market reforms," the IMF also wants to eliminate the program that provides each Iraqi family with a basket of food--the only barrier to starvation for millions of citizens. There is additional pressure to eliminate the food rations coming from the World Trade Organization, which, at Washington's urging, is considering accepting Iraq as a member--provided it adopts certain "reforms."

So let's be absolutely clear: The United States, having broken Iraq, is not in the process of fixing it. It is merely continuing to break the country and its people by other means, using not only F-16s and Bradleys, but now the less flashy weaponry of WTO and IMF conditions, followed by elections designed to transfer as little power to Iraqis as possible."

Her conclusion is very important: "The failure to develop a credible platform beyond "troops out" may be one reason the antiwar movement remains stalled, even as opposition to the war deepens. Because the Pottery Barn rulers do have a point: Breaking a country should have consequences for the breakers. Owning the broken country should not be one of them, but how about paying for the repairs?"

And I fear that this is the core of the problem. Nothing is moving in the direction either of pulling out, nor of leaving the Iraqis with their own independence and full ownership of their nation, much less the concept that the US and its Coalition Nations "owe" Iraq reparations.


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